Movie Review: 22 July

The film 22 July tells the story of the coordinated bombing and mass shooting that occurred in Oslo and Utøya, Norway July 22nd, 2011. It is an ensemble cast, but the two leads of the film are clearly Anders Danielson Lie who plays the perpetrator of the attacks and Jonas Strand Gravali who plays one of the victims of the shooting who was shot five times attempting to escape. The film was directed by Paul Greengrass.

Paul Greengrass knows how to build a film around an event. He's done it well in a few different films. He understands intimacy and has a way with controlling and containing the chaos of these events. Two of his films, Bloody Sunday and United 93, are harrowing portraits of a sliver of time, which is where I think 22 July falters.

The event itself is a small part of the film whole. Don't get me wrong, an entire film that is just a mass shooting would be entirely unwatchable, but as soon as the film shifts away from the events and the immediate aftermath to the weeks and months that follow, it loses what made those first moments so shocking. It loses its anonymity and objectivity, which was its strength.

The film stays with the murderer at his trial, it stays with one of the victims, Viljar as he attempts to recover from his wounds and deal with the deep psychological scarring and, most incomprehensibly, with the Prime Minister of Norway as he tries to figure out who is at fault for not keeping a better eye on their domestic terrorist's activities. It's baffling to me why the film attempts to remain an ensemble at this point. Its focus is all over the place and in the case of the Prime Minister's storyline wholly unnecessary. That storyline derails the emotional journey of Viljar and the moral and ethical dilemmas of the lawyer of the murderer who is obligated to give his client the best possible defense.

A perfect version of this film would have been shorter and in the characters native language. This is a trope that bugs me every time I see it. In this case, they cast Norwegian actors, shot the film in Norway, yet, everyone is speaking English. Why? Why couldn't the script have been translated? Was it so Americans will watch it and see the parallels with the white supremacist antagonist and the current political landscape? Is that really the only way audiences can relate? I could only speculate on that, but it's definitely some thing that has happened before and will happen again, which is confounding.

In all of that messiness, though there are some very excellent elements to this film. One of them being the courtroom testimonies of the murderer, a survivor who has tremendous guilt, and Viljar. That scene with Viljar in the courtroom is the most powerful part of the film and what I hope it has as its most lasting impact. Gravali, who is stellar throughout, takes on an excellent physicality that is night and day from the public speaking he does at the beginning of the film. His delivery and presence packs a punch and never wavers into schmaltz like can happen with these scenes.

22 July is a tough film to watch, but I believe if you can make it to the end, you will feel a strong sense of hope in human perseverance in the face of human created disaster. Though, as it is streaming on Netflix, you can always turn it off if you don't like it. I recommend it for anyone who needs a hopeful ending in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

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